Cavity vs Root Canal

Cavity vs root canal
Cavity vs root canal

Dental decay is surprisingly common, with many adults experiencing cavities at least once in life. When this happens you’ll require a cavity filling or root canal depending on the severity of your tooth decay. Do you know the difference between cavity filling vs root canal ? While a root canal procedure is required when a cavity has been left untreated too long, Cavity fillings are used to fill small holes in teeth in cases where the nerve has not yet been damaged or affected by the cavity.



Tooth decay is caused when the bacteria in our mouths, and the foods we eat, create acid that erodes the tooth. Two major factors that put your teeth at a higher risk of decay are eating sugary foods and smoking cigarettes.
A hole in the tooth caused by decay is called a cavity. When you have a cavity, you need to go to the dentist for a filling. If the tooth continues to decay and the hole gets deeper, you will need a root canal.

What causes cavities?

Many factors play a role in the development of cavities. These steps typically occur:

  • Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugary, starchy foods and drinks (fruit, candy, bread, cereal, sodas, juice and milk). The bacteria convert these carbohydrates into acids.
  • Bacteria, acid, food and saliva mix to form plaque. This sticky substance coats the teeth.
  • Without proper brushing and flossing, acids in plaque dissolve tooth enamel,

What is a Cavity?

A cavity is a hole that forms in your tooth as a result of tooth decay. Tooth decay is caused by bacteria that produce acids that eat away at the enamel of your teeth.

Cavity vs root canal
Cavity vs root canal

If left untreated, a cavity can progress and cause infection in the tooth pulp.

Signs of a Cavity

Tooth decay on the outer enamel surface doesn’t usually cause pain or symptoms. You’re more likely to experience symptoms as decay progresses into the dentin and root. The common signs of cavities to include:

  • Bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.
  • Bleeding gums or other signs of gum disease.
  • Facial swelling.
  • Toothache or mouth pain.
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods or drinks.
  • Redness around or inside the mouth.

When does a cavity turn into a root canal ?

There are three layers of the tooth: enamel (the top layer), dentin (middle layer) and nerve tissue (deepest layer). If your tooth has decay to the enamel or dentin, a simple filling is enough to repair the cavity. However, if the cavity is left untreated, the decay will reach the deepest layer of the tooth, the nerve tissue. At this point, a root canal is necessary to repair the tooth.


What’s the Difference Between a Cavity Filling vs a Root Canal?

Fillings and root canals have several things in common, but it’s helpful to know the difference if you think you may need one or the other. Here’s what to expect from each:

Tooth Filling

We often recommend dental fillings when a patient has a cavity or minor tooth decay. However, this is only true as long as these issues haven’t reached the pulp of the tooth or the connective tissues that sit in the center of the tooth. We also recommend them for small tooth fractures.




With a tooth filling, we’ll clean out any cavity and then fill the hole (or imperfection, in case of a fracture) with composite resin. This prevents the issue from worsening later, causing you more pain and dental issues.

Root Canal

You might hear root canals called “endodontic therapy” as well. A root canal is recommended once tooth decay has become serious enough to reach the tooth pulp, especially once an infection has set in.
Root canals may be needed for more severe, untreated cavities—which is why we tell patients to come in for regular check-ups!
With a root canal procedure, your dentist will remove the pulp of your tooth to rid you of the infection. Then, they’ll follow up by placing a dental crown.
Many of our patients ask, “Do root canals hurt?” While root canals have a bad rap for being the worst procedure your mouth can endure, our answer is, “A lot less than you’d think!”
In fact, one 2011 review of 72 studies found that only 17 percent of people thought a root canal was the worst dental procedure they’d experienced. A root canal can be described as a more in-depth version of a filling, and with local anesthesia to numb the area, you should feel pressure instead of root canal pain during the procedure.


How do you know if you need a root canal?

Root canals are needed for a cracked tooth from injury or genetics, a deep cavity, or issues from a previous filling. Patients generally need a root canal when they notice their teeth are sensitive, particularly to hot and cold sensations.
There are a few symptoms that mean you might need a root canal—

  • Severe pain while chewing or biting
  • Pimples on the gums
  • A chipped or cracked tooth
  • Lingering sensitivity to hot or cold, even after the sensation has been removed
  • Swollen or tender gums
  • Deep decay or darkening of the gums

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